Sunday, 23 October 2016

Writing a Winning Ghost Story

In just over a week's time it will be Halloween. To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of this celebration and even when my children were young, we were never ones for Halloween parties or trick-or-treating.

What I do like, though, is writing and reading ghost stories and this week I've been getting in the mood for all things ghostly, having just judged the Rosemary Robb Ghost Story Competition for the Nottingham Writers Club. I was asked to be adjudicator after the organiser had read one of my blog posts in which I explained how I'd crafted the ghost story that had just been published in Take a Break Fiction feast.

If you'd like to read the post, it's called, Ghost stories don't need to be scary.

There's been some talk on Facebook recently about the importance of selecting the right judge for a particular competition. I agree that matching a judge to the genre is crucial. If I was asked to read a selection of play-scripts or crime novels, I might know which one I liked best but I would find it hard to explain why I thought the entry worthy of being the winner. Why? Because I wouldn't know the craft of that particular type of writing. Equally, I would be in no position to explain why the entries that had not won, had fallen short of their mark. 

On the other hand, short stories in general, romances and magazine stories are things I know about and have had success with. This is why I have been happy to adjudicate stories in these areas - thank you to the Chiltern Writers' Group and the SWWJ for asking me. If you haven't already read my post on being invited to hand out the prizes at the the SWWJ Christmas tea alongside Sir Tim Rice, you can read it here.

So why did I say yes to judging the ghost story competition? It was because, as I said earlier, I love reading a good ghost story but more importantly because I have had success writing them myself otherwise I wouldn't have agreed. I've written eight to date - one that was long-listed for the BBC Opening Lines Competition and the others published in magazines (I even had the honour of writing The People's Friend Magazine's first ghost story).

And that's what I want to talk about today... writing a winning ghost story.

Of course, as with any competition or magazine submission, the judging is subjective to a great extent. Every adjudicator or editor will have a different idea of what they like in a ghost story. Some may like them to be chilling, others might prefer them to to be heartwarming, romantic or humorous. Whatever the judges preference, they will be looking for a well-crafted story that pleases.

Ghost stories fall into three categories:
  • One where the narrator of the story is the ghost. 
  • One where the narrator of the story is being haunted. 
  • One where there is no ghost at all (there is a rational explanation for any ghostly happenings). 
For my own part, apart from the competition listing, all my stories have had a ghost that's been a subtle presence rather than an 'in your face' apparition. More often than not, the ghostly character hasn't been revealed to the reader (or the main character) until the end of the story. See my ghost story breakdown here. That is how I like my ghost stories but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy one that is crafted a different way.

Whatever type of ghost story you decide to write, there is one rule that needs to be followed to make it work. THERE MUST BE A REASON WHY THE GHOST IS HAUNTING. Sorry to shout that but it's really important.
  • The ghost might have had a problem in his/her past life that needs to be resolved (which can usually only be done through the main character).
  • The person being haunted has a problem which the ghost can help with. 
Whichever you decide on, the reader must believe the problem is important enough for the ghost to be there otherwise the story will seem unbelievable and the judge won't want to turn to the next page.

The next thing to think about is the setting. What first comes to mind might be churchyards... old houses... a dark wood at night. Of course, these can lend atmosphere to a ghost story but your setting doesn't have to be dark and Gothic; an ordinary setting can work just as well. Why? Because the reader is more likely to be taken in by it. Settings of my own ghost stories have included: a sailing boat, an underground station, a school, a beach and a street like the one you might live in. Think of an ordinary setting and see how you could make it work.

What about the ghost itself? They can be sinister or benign. Both work. I've even read a story where the ghost had been an animal or an inanimate object. Whoever, or whatever, your ghost is, remember to flesh them out (if that's possible with an apparition!) as you would any other character. Give your ghost personality, and emotions that can be recognised, and help the reader to picture them. Whether the ghost appears to be human or is just a shadowy spirit the reader will want to know if they are angry, sad, lonely or amused? These are all things to think about.

The final thing I want to talk about regarding ghost stories is tension. If your story is a spine-tingler, be sure to build up the tension gradually. Don't tell the reader what is happening straight away - let them fill in the details. Drop in hints that all is not what it seems along the way. If you don't, you will lesson the impact at the end of your story. There will be no surprises and the judge/editor will say, "Okay, but I knew that anyway." Do you have any fears? If so, use them. I'll guarantee they'll be more believable than ones you've made up.

You've thought about all these things and have written a fabulous wining ghost story. Right? Well, not necessarily. At the end of the day, your ghost story is just that... a short story. You mustn't forget the fundamentals of any story. Pace, story arc, a clear beginning middle and end, technicalities such as grammar, punctuation and dialogue and thoughtful word choices are all very important, as is a professionally presented manuscript.

You can read what I look for as a competition judge here.

So there you have it. If you're thinking of having a go at writing a ghost story, I highly recommend this book by Kath McGurl. It's called Ghost Stories and How to Write them

Go on, have a go... whooooo!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Successful Co-writing - Guest Post Cass Grafton and Ada Bright

Today, I am delighted to welcome the next guests to my Autumn Spotlight - the lovely Cass Grafton and Ada Bright. I've always had a fascination with writers who successfully co-write (writing alone is hard enough!) so invited Cass and Ada to tell us how they have managed to make their partnership work.


Hi! My name is Cass and Ada is my good friend and writing partner, and we’re delighted to be here on Wendy’s Writing Now to talk about our co-writing process when working on our recently released book, The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen!

First and foremost, we’d like to say a huge thank you to Wendy for hosting us! It’s lovely to be here, participating in your Guest Blog openings this autumn!

By way of background, Ada lives in California and I live in Switzerland. Aside from the thousands of miles between us, there’s also a nine-hour time difference, but funnily enough, that really worked in our favour during the writing process, as you will see from Ada’s comments below!



If you're a writer, imagine being told you could write a book and skip some of the things you don't enjoy about writing. That is what our co-writing process is like, and I love it!

What Cass brings to the writing table is exactly what I lack and vice versa. What I can produce quickly is what takes her a long time to process. So, maybe with someone else I might feel selfish by suggesting she take ‘xyz’ while I work on ‘abc’; but with Cass, breaking duties up to suit our strengths generally ends up making us both happy.  

Does that mean it was the easiest thing in the world? No, we had our share of difficult times. When things were moving along well in both our lives, we were working pretty much continuously on the book: I would write while Cass slept, she would edit my draft or start something new when I went to sleep and so on But, invariably, one of our creative and/or personal lives wouldn't quite cooperate and that meant the other person was pretty well stuck whether or not they were feeling the same. 

Still, if I was coming back from a difficult week away from writing, I always had a cheerleader and a partner in Cass to come back to; to get my writing juices flowing again.  

Our process involves a lot of teasing each other as well. Never did I laugh more than when typing "Cass writes something brilliant here" rather than fixing the section I was supposed to fix…or, if I'd already used that one recently, giving all the characters Valley Girl accents just to make Cass's brain explode in the morning. I would snicker to myself, imagining that somewhere, a half globe away, Cass was opening up my draft, keen to work on what I'd sent her - then innocently read the part I'd mangled and right then be cursing my name!

We would often stage FaceTime debates for a particular section we wanted cut or kept. The battles never felt like losses though, because whenever we were struggling with something it would invariably be worked out better in discussion and often lead us to exactly where we needed to go next.

We also both swore to each other, before we'd made airline reservations, before we'd created an outline and before we'd written a line, that our friendship needed to come first. It felt silly at times that we'd have thought we'd need such a promise. But maybe, by making the promise, we'd already proven ourselves good enough friends to work through whatever might come up!



So there you go! That’s how it worked on a day-to-day level - a total collaboration where we’d each pass the baton to the other and back again, tweaking scenes again and again until neither could remember who had written what!

We used FaceTime frequently for brainstorming and ‘meetings’ (so much so, we felt quite bereft once the book was out and the need for these chats dropped from almost daily to about once a week)! This was where the time difference was a bonus again, as early morning is my most creative time, and late at night is Ada’s!

We also used OneDrive to upload the sections we’d worked on, along with any pertinent notes for each other (though our most frequent lament was, ‘I hate OneDrive’)!

Oh, and despite the challenges, we laughed - a lot! One of the abiding things we will take from this whole co-writing process is that it was fun! After all, we had two writers working on one story - that’s twice the energy, twice the imagination and creativity and half the workload - what’s not to like? Yes, it was hard work; yes, we had tough decisions to make and problems to work through or around, but fun is what it was, and we can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone thinking about giving it a try!

Ada Bright is an author, wife, mother, friend and all around lover of stories.  She grew up in Southern California, where she maintains a fun household and yearns for rain once in awhile.

Cass Grafton is an author and explorer who loves travel, words, and wine. She is a British ex-pat living in Switzerland with her patient and lovely husband. 

Cassandra (Cass) Grafton

Co-author with Ada Bright of The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen
Author of the A Fair Prospect trilogy 
Co-author of The Darcy Brothers

Visit me:
Our Blog: Tabby Cow
My Website: Cass Grafton

Rose Wallace, Bath resident and avid Jane Austen fan, is looking forward to the annual Jane Austen Festival hosted by the city. 

Her anticipation isn’t just for the events she will enjoy, though. Also attending this year will be one of her best friends, an American called Morgan, and this will be the first time in their 7-year online friendship they will meet in person! To add a further frisson of excitement, it’s the one time a year she gets to see her secret crush, an eminent archaeologist who often comes to the Festival to deliver a presentation.

What Rose doesn’t know is that one person attending the Festival has a stronger connection to it than anyone else; someone who will turn Rose’s orderly life upside down by sharing an astonishing secret with her, after which the entire legacy of Jane Austen’s work fades into oblivion.

With the happy melody of her life in tatters, Rose has to face up to a new one; a life devoid of her favourite books, characters, her beloved job and home and even some of her friends.

With the support of a displaced two hundred year old author and a charmed necklace, can Rose help to bring back some of the most beloved stories of all time and turn her own life around in the process?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Four Wedding Stories and a Graveyard

"When are we going to be featured in one of your 'inspiration behind the story ' posts?" my lovely step-daughter, Emma, and her equally lovely husband, Phil, asked. 

It was just after I'd told them that another one of their stories had been published in this week's People's Friend magazine.

They were quite right to ask, of course, as from the day they told us they were getting married they have provided me with a grand total of four stories... all of which have been published in The People's Friend.

The first story, 'These Foolish things' was about a wooden spoon. A very important wooden spoon, as it happens. From the day Emma and Phil moved in together, they have had monthly 'meetings' to discuss any niggles or things that have been bothering them. The great thing about this is that only the person holding the wooden spoon can speak. What a great idea! (You can tell Emma's a teacher).

On the day they got engaged, Phil presented Emma with a spoon on which he'd had engraved, 'The Morris Family Spoon'. When a surprised Emma asked why he'd given it to her as she wasn't a Morris, it was his cue to ask her to marry him... how romantic is that? I just had to write a story based on it.

Two years later, at their wedding, my husband was presented with his own wooden spoon, which came in very handy for his speech!

The next story I wrote for them was, 'The Sailor's Waltz.' This came about after Phil confided to us that he was worried about their first dance as he wasn't much of a dancer. As it happened, after a few practices, they danced perfectly well but it gave me a story idea. My couple were also worried about that first dance but it was because the bride's late mother had been a ballroom dancer, they wanted to dance to the same music her parents had chosen for their wedding dance and it was really important that they get it right. What would help the groom to learn the steps? 

The third story was called, Dinner at the Majestic. On the night Phil proposed to Emma, they stayed at Amberley Castle in West Sussex. It was a beautiful romantic place but they decided to forgo dinner in the smart dining room for fish and chips in their room. I thought that was brilliant and just knew it had to be immortalised.

So that just leaves this week's story, 'Marriage vows', which is probably my favourite of all. One day, Phil confided to us that the only quiet place he could find to practise his speech was the local churchyard. I could just picture him walking up and down between the gravestones, his hands behind his back, with an attentive audience who wouldn't interrupt him! In my story, in this week's Friend magazine, the young man has gone to the churchyard to write his vows, rather than practise his speech, but the sentiment is the same.

So a huge thank you to Phil and Emma for providing me with such wonderful material... I'm expecting many more years of inspiration to come!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The RNA NWS and an Unusual Pet - Guest Post Emily Royal

Hurray, it's October! Last week I mentioned that for the next few weeks I'd be opening up Wendy's Writing Now to new guests. Today, I offer a warm welcome my first - fellow RNA New Writers' Scheme member and author, Emily Royal. Thank you for taking up the challenge and being first to step into the spotlight, Emily. Let's begin.

Have you always known that one day you would be a writer?

It’s definitely my calling – but I never thought it would actually happen! Mathematics was my strength at school and that’s the career I followed. But I always had stories and characters chattering away in my head so one day I decided to write them down.

Can you tell my readers something about the genre you write in and what made you choose it?

It’s historical/medieval romance, a cross between Game of Thrones and Outlander. My stories tend to be dark and gritty with a bit of suspense and a lot of spice!
Life in medieval times was harsh, especially for women. I love writing stories where a heroine has to fight against her situation and turn the traditional damsel-in-distress concept on its head by showing she can be stronger than the hero, even if he’s a big alpha male.

Can you describe the novel you’re currently working on in one sentence?

Tough question! I’ll go with what I hope will be my second novel, set in the 11th Century, which I’m editing just now. It’s a dark, sexy romance about a young woman with a tragic secret who finds unlikely love with the barbaric man she is forced to marry, until her past returns to haunt her.

Like me, you’re a member of the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. In what way has belonging to this organisation helped with your writing?

It helped my confidence. NWS members get a full critique of a novel and I found the notion of someone reading my work utterly terrifying! But it was great to get confirmation that my writing doesn’t stink, as well as advice on how to improve. Had I not joined the RNA I would never have submitted to agents, let alone found one!

It’s always daunting sending your baby out into the big wide world of agents. How did you prepare for this?

I edited the novel, taking the advice from the critique on board, but kept putting off submitting until an author friend told me to get on with it! So I researched agents known to be receptive to submissions from RNA members, checking out their websites and lists of clients, to see if anyone might be a good match.

Tell me a little bit about finding your agent. Did you always have an American agent in mind?

I’d thought a UK agent was my best chance. But after a couple of months I followed my heart and looked up some of my favourite authors, many of whom are American. There’s one whose writing I love, so I googled her to see if she had an agent, and the rest is history!

Since finding your agent, have you had to do much work on your novel?

Oh yes, they’re very editorial. Their advice is excellent and they always explain their reasoning – which means it’s helped with my other novels, too.

Emily Royal is your pen name. What was your reason for not using your real name?

I wanted to keep writing and the day job separate; my stories are quite racy!

We all know that working with an agent is by no means the end of the journey. What’s the next step for your novel?

We’re nearing the final stages of editing. The plan is to submit to publishers later this month. Having gone through the stress of waiting for responses when I submitted to agents, I’m already getting nervous!

Finally, I must ask you about your unusual pets. Do you really keep snakes?!

Yes – I adore snakes. We’ve got different types: Royal Pythons, Boas, Cornsnakes and a Burmese Python. They’re all non-poisonous, very friendly, love being handled and are great with the children. Most were adopted from our local animal rescue centre. I nearly always have one draped over me when I’m writing and one will be making a guest appearance in a future novel!

An actuary by day and writer of gritty, dark & sexy romance by night; Emily Royal lives in rural Scotland with her family. She joined the RNA in 2015 to pursue her passion for writing and uses any surface she can find including aeroplane tray tables, her kitchen table or lap, usually with one of her snakes round her neck. 

She can be found on twitter at @eroyalauthor and Facebook at
Emily is represented by Browne & Miller Literary Associates and is currently working with them to prepare her debut novel for submission to publishers.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

An Exciting Time for Wendy's Writing Now!

A few days ago was the start of Autumn. Having been a teacher in my previous life, I've always thought of the Autumn term as being a time of change. It's the same now that I'm a writer. I consider September to be a fresh start without the distraction of holidays (yes, I know I've had one or two), grandkiddy duties and feeling guilty about being inside writing when the weather is nice. Like other writers, I definitely get less done in the summer.

It's not only my magazine writing that's suffered during the summer, I've not been blogging as consistently as in the past. Neither have I been keeping up with social media as I should. 

Now that Autumn is here, I need to try to get back to writing consistently, settle down to a routine and not allow my mind to wander to other things. I also need to get writing buddy, Tracy, to give me a stern talking to!

I've realised that, in order to kick start my writing, I need to devote more of my time to writing projects. I love blogging but it can be time consuming so, for the months of October and November, I am handing my blog over to some wonderful guests. You are certainly in for a treat! Some of the authors will be known to many of you but I also have some lesser known writers who I am very excited to feature. To give you a taster, next week's guest has the most amazing pets (I won't spoil it for you now but I can promise you some interesting photos).

When I posted that I was opening up these two months to guest spots, I was so inundated with requests that I had to turn people down (I'm so sorry if you were one of them). From the comments left, it seems that Wendy's Writing Now is seen as a great platform for guest authors and for that I feel humbled (but also sad that I can't accommodate everyone). Someone said they'd been wanting to join the 'hall of fame' at the side of my blog for a long while but, up until now, had been to shy to ask. I feel very honoured.

You won't have got rid of me entirely though. I shall be popping in during these two months with my own news - it just won't be every week.

In the meantime, here is my latest story in The People's Friend Magazine. Its called, The Anniversary Dinner and was written for a friend of mine.

Monday, 19 September 2016

A Sleepy Island, a Boat and a Cavorting Couple!

Lots of pictures and not many words in this post today as we've been away again - this time to the Greek island of Ithaca (or Ithaka). It was an island we hadn't been to before and, as usual, we were smitten.

The island is small and you reach it by ferry from Kefalonia. With only one crossing each afternoon, and a flight that had been delayed by half an hour, our drive to the other side of the island to catch the ferry was an interesting experience! Luckily we just manage to get there in time.

This year, instead of using a travel firm, we decided to go it alone and try airbnb. We certainly weren't disappointed as for the same price as a package, we ended up with a three bedroom house with plunge pool and a view to die for! This was the view from our extremely large veranda.

Ithaca is an island you only go to if you want total rest and relaxation. It's a beautiful but sleepy place with only a handful of towns: Vathy, the capital, the little beach resort of Frikes and the exquisite harbour town of Kioni where we stayed - a popular place with the boating set. Late each day the flotillas would moor up in the harbour and it was immensely entertaining, at the end of an evening, to watch the well dressed couples take off their smart shoes and clamber aboard their (rather precarious looking) rubber dinghies to get back to their yachts. 

The beaches were pretty pebbled coves (only two on the island had sunbeds and sunshades) and the water was crystal clear. Being September, the season was beginning to wind down and we had most beaches almost to ourselves... except for this one! I've never shared a beach with a goat before.

As you can see, we hired a little boat and came across this beautiful Robinson Crusoe beach. It was so romantic with just a shipwrecked old boat on it. A young couple who swam out from their yacht a few hours later obviously thought so too. When they started stripping off their clothes, we though it was time to make our presence clear before things got awkward!

While we were away, I took the opportunity of doing some reading. I deliberately turned my back on the psychological thrillers I've been reading recently as they've all become a bit samey. Instead, I took a trip down memory lane and read a Rosamund Pilcher. It was an enjoyable beach read with beautiful Cornish scenery but rather dated. The other book I read was Elizabeth is Missing. This has gone into my top 10 best reads - what a great book.

I'm home now and ready for an Autumn of writing but I have to say that in my mind, I'm already planning next year's Greek holiday!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Holidays as Inspiration for Your Stories

This has been a good week for magazine stories. I have two in The People's Friend Weekly (very unusual as they don't often feature a writer more than once unless it's in the Special) and one in Take a Break Fiction Feast.

It was as I was reading them again that it occurred to me that all three had been written following a holiday. Two from this year and one a while ago.

My first story in The Friend is called 'Welcome to Paradise' and I'll tell you a little about how this one came about. In May this year, my husband and I went on a fantastic holiday to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. For the second part of the holiday, we stayed in the beautiful village of Positano.

When we arrived at the beach around the headland, we were greeted by a young man from the local bar. 'Welcome to Paradise!' he said. We thought that was rather lovely and it amused us when we heard him say the same thing to everyone. If a group of pretty girls came down to the beach, he was extra attentive. I just knew I had to write a story about him as soon as I got back. I sent the story along with the photo above to my editor who bought it. This is the lovely illustration that they put with it - rather arty don't you think!

My second story in The People's Friend is called 'A Walk on the Fells'. The original title was The Coffin Stone which was much more interesting I think - maybe they didn't like the word 'coffin'. I wrote it after I came back form The Lake District in April. It is absolutely one of my favourite places in England to holiday and I have written (and have had published) a story every time I've come home from a visit. This is my fourth Lake District story for The Friend and I've had one published in Fiction Feast too.

Fiction editor, Shirley Blair, asked if I would tell the readers the inspiration behind my story and here it is. Have any of you ever walked the 'coffin route?'

My final story this week is called 'Don't Rock the Boat' - originally titled, 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (never be precious about your titles). It was one of my first stories and was written after my first canal boat holiday in 2012. It didn't sell then so I put it away in a drawer, revamped it and resent it four years later. I've had three more canal boat holidays since then.

I'm off to the Greek island of Ithaka soon... I feel another Greek story coming on!